Flounder fishing season extended

'keeper' size made bigger

March 23, 2010|by Candus Thomson | Baltimore Sun reporter

Bowing to public sentiment, state fisheries managers have agreed to give coastal anglers a longer summer flounder season this year in return for making the minimum size of a "keeper" fish slightly bigger.

Under emergency regulations being proposed this week by the Department of Natural Resources, anglers on the coast and the Chesapeake Bay will be allowed to fish from April 17 to Nov. 22, keep three fish daily, with a minimum size of 19 inches. The proposal was unanimously endorsed Monday night by the Sport Fish Advisory Commission.

Fisheries Service director Tom O'Connell said he and his staff had misread the sentiments of Ocean City anglers and fishing industry representatives when they had proposed a shorter season and a half-inch shorter minimum size. Biologists feared that with other fish species off limits or on a reduced season this year to protect dwindling numbers, anglers would turn to flounder and Maryland would exceed its annual quota set by federal regulators.

"We've exceeded our harvest for several years and we're trying to get back on the right side of things," O'Connell said. "We're trying to make a prudent decision so we don't put ourselves in a bad situation next year."

But at a February meeting, fisheries biologists and managers of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the regulatory board that sets many of the rules and quotas for many Eastern Seaboard species, approved both proposals.

O'Connell cautioned that while DNR was backing the longer season, it reserved the right to end it before Nov. 22 if early monitoring data showed Maryland anglers were catching too many fish. Also, he said, the agency will be keeping tabs on catch information from northern states to see how the season is playing out. Maryland's flounder quota this year is 75,000 fish.

Meanwhile, O'Connell said the commercial yellow perch season has been closed on the Chester River and the upper Chesapeake Bay after quotas in both areas were exceeded.

Recreational and conservation groups have fought for years to ban or restrict commercial yellow perch fishing, saying nets stretched across bay tributaries where the fish spawn were reducing the population. In 2008, the General Assembly approved tighter restrictions on watermen, which took effect in January 2009. Watermen are required to obtain a yellow perch harvest permit and to tag and report their daily catch to provide greater accountability and improve harvest data.

But despite those safeguards, catch numbers this year exceeded DNR's targets.

In the upper bay, watermen were allowed to take 39,949 pounds of yellow perch, but landed 49,629 pounds. The Chester River quota of 7,800 pounds was exceeded by nearly 1,000 pounds.

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